Opinion: How I Came to Appreciate Service Learning


Morgan Meadows

Believe it or not, my favorite thing about Sierra Nevada College isn’t the fact that Tahoe is right in our backyard. It isn’t the beautiful mountains or the towering pine trees or even the lakeside sunsets. The reason I came to SNC is pretty simple: For my education.

SNC offers many unique opportunities, both inside and outside the classroom. Students within the interdisciplinary studies program get to participate in one of the most challenging but rewarding courses on campus: Service learning.

Service learning is one of three classes designed to help interdisciplinary studies students integrate the things they’re learning and gain practical experience along the way. Interdisciplinary studies allows students to choose from two disciplines that are usually unrelated and combine themwithout the extra time of double majoring.

INTD students have the option to choose from a number of combinations that suit their interest, including: art and psychology, ODAL and environmental science, marketing and journalism, and practically anything else. Students can petition to create their own degree paths in the areas that interest them if one doesn’t exist already. The possibilities really are endless.

In their junior year INTD students hone their skills in a self-guided project in partnership with a local non-profit organization. Through service learning, students are able to address a need that they see within the community and use the skills they’ve acquired in school while also earning credit toward their degree. The service learning class only meets once a week, but students are required to complete 60 hours of volunteer work with their organizations and are encouraged to strive for even more.

I came to SNC with an associate degree in photography and a handful of other credits. The interdisciplinary studies pro- gram let me build on my education, as well as add another discipline in journalism without starting over from scratch. Being a digital arts and journalism student has not only allowed me to broaden my education
but has given me much more practical experience than I received at community college.

I started off my service learning journey a little apprehensive. I’d never volunteered before, and 60 hours seemed monumental. I chose to give my hours to the Pet Network Humane Society in Incline Village.

I knew that I wanted to work with them because I’d spent a few hours of my own time volunteering with the animals and I’ve always loved pets, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to relate dogs and cats to photography and journalism.

I started my hours at the beginning of the semester, still lost as to how I was going to get anything more out of the experience than playing with puppies and scooping litter boxes. Then one day my supervisor told me that the attached thrift store was badly in need of volunteers.

Second Chance Thrift Boutique is located within the Pet Network and is manned entirely by volunteers. All the profits generated from sales go directly to the animals, and donations from locals help keep the store running. But the little shop is in dire need of some better advertising.

While working, I discovered that most visitors are regulars who happen to know about the shop’s existence. It’s a relatively new addition to the Pet Network, and the search results on Google are misleading. There is no active social media for the store, and no website. By chance I happened to suggest that we develop the store’s online presence and found out that was exactly what it needed.

Though I started the experience helping with day-to-day aspects of animal care, now I’m taking pictures and developing web content, doing the things that I know how to do while helping the animals find forever homes. I was genuinely surprised at how I was able to relate what I specialize in to such an unrelated topic.

Now I am halfway through my hours and can genuinely say that I am grateful that I was forced out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure I would have ever considered working so closely with the Pet Network if it weren’t for service learning. Though service learning is currently only available to INTD students, there are other opportunities to participate within the community for SNC students.
I now think that volunteer work really is a vital part of the college experience, whether through a class like service learn- ing or giving back on your own. e Pet Network could always use the help. More information on how to volunteer can be found on petnetwork.org or by calling (775) 832-4404.